Sunday, June 19, 2016

236. Con Men, Scams, and Frauds

     This country has always enjoyed the attention of con men, scams, and frauds, and today is no exception.  The May 2016 issue of the AARP Bulletin, published by that guardian of golden oldies, the American Association of Retired Persons, warns of several scams, since seniors are especially at risk of being tricked.

Black Market Meds
Are Flooding the
Nation’s Pharmacies
And Hospitals

Older Americans are at the
Greatest risk of being scammed.
Here’s what you need to know

Thieves, it seems, are stealing vast amounts from drug company warehouses and dumping them on the black market.  Often adulterated, these drugs then make their way into pharmacies, nursing homes, hospitals, and doctors’ offices, along with out-and-out fakes.  They may be worthless, or they may even be toxic.  The greatest risk is from Internet pharmacies that mail drugs directly to consumers.  Advice to consumers:

·      If shopping online, deal with one of the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
·      Avoid companies selling prescription drugs without a prescription.
·      Avoid so-called “Canadian storefronts” – small pharmacies, often in strip malls, offering cut-rate drugs.
·      If a price seems to good to be true, don’t buy.

     Other hoaxes to beware of:

·      Letters urging you – often with an “act before” date – to order a copy of your property deed, often for $80 or more.  You can get a certified copy from the county clerk’s office for as little as $2 per page.
·      Letters or phone calls saying that, for a fee of $200 or more, you can lower your property tax by filing a dispute of the tax assessment.  You can request a lower assessment from the city or county assessor’s office without paying a fee.
·      Credit-repair services offering to “remove bad debt” from your credit file for as much as $5,000 or a monthly fee of $100.  You can challenge items in your credit report by contacting the credit bureaus yourself for no fee.

     A completely legal practice by states is to grab “abandoned” financial property for themselves.  So if you get a letter from your bank, broker, or mutual fund company saying they haven’t heard from you for a while, don’t ignore it.  Some states are worse than others in this regard.  A student in New Jersey got $500 worth of stock in 1995.  By 2014, when he finished college, it was worth $8250.  But when he wanted to sell the stock so he could buy a car, he learned that the state had sold it eight years before for $900.  Not a scam or a fraud – quite legal.  So Happy birthday, New Jersey!

     The same bulletin reminds seniors not to fall for the “grandparent scam,” when a grandchild phones in desperation, saying he’s been arrested on some charge, or is stranded somewhere abroad, and needs money – a lot of it – for bail or whatever.  He explains that he may sound strange to them because he has a broken nose or some other injury affecting his voice.  Don’t fall for it.  Check with the grandson or his parents; he’s probably studying in the school library or out playing soccer.  A scam, pure and simple.

     That same issue has an interview with a reformed con man, Frank Abagnale, who now works to expose the latest scams and help people avoid them.  Some of his observations:

·      It’s easier today to forge checks.  Decades ago he had to have a costly press and some journeymen printers to operate it, but now all you have to do is go to a corporate website and, within minutes, obtain a beautiful four-color check.
·      The day of the old-fashioned con man – well-dressed, sophisticated, well spoken – is over, for today you can be a slob in your pajamas and con people miles away by telephone or computer.  (Clearly, a great loss.)
·      The most ingenious recent scam he knows of: account takeover.  You write me a check, then I go online to a check-printing service and order 200 checks with your account info; by the next time you read your monthly account statement, I’ve cleaned out the account.
·      Use credit cards; if someone gets your card number and uses it, your liability under federal law is zero.  Avoid debit cards; all the money in your account is at risk.
·      Don’t use a “mug shot” of yourself online, since it can be appropriated and misused; use a photo of yourself with friends or involved in some activity.
·      Never give your place of birth or full date of birth online; they too can be appropriated and misused.

All this from a charming white-haired gentleman with a winning smile.  It’s good that he’s reformed; otherwise, even today he’d find a way to con us, gullible prey that we are.

     Also in this bulletin are tips from a retired homicide detective about how to tell when someone being questioned is either lying or withholding some of the truth:

·      They fidget, touch their nose, pull an ear.
·      They talk fast, as if they don’t want you to hear them.
·      They try to change the subject.
·      They repeat a question, even though they obviously heard it loud and clear, because they need time to come up with a believable answer.
·      They either won’t look you in the eye, or do.  Whichever it is, it’s a departure from their usual behavior.

     So armed with this info, and the tips from a reformed con man, we should all be better prepared to fend off fraudsters.  And if the fraudsters are Big Pharma or Wall Street?  Ah, that’s a subject for another post.

  The book:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received two awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction, and first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards.  For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.  (It also got an honorable mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards, but that hardly counts.)  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

     Coming soon:  Construction and destruction in the city.  Dumpsters and debris, towering cranes, two horrible deaths, and what happened to the seven phone booths from the Roseland Ballroom?

     ©   2016   Clifford Browder

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